London Marathon: Radcliffe faces challenge to her supremacy from 'fighter' Okayo

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The Independent Online

Paula Radcliffe will seek a third Flora London Marathon victory tomorrow knowing that is the least that will be expected of her. Such is the price of success.

Paula Radcliffe will seek a third Flora London Marathon victory tomorrow knowing that is the least that will be expected of her. Such is the price of success.

The race director Dave Bedford is not the only observer to predict the marathon world record holder, who experienced traumatic failure in Athens last summer, will also better the time she set in her marathon debut on this course three years ago, 2hr 18min 56sec. That would earn the 31-year-old Bedford runner a $125,000 (£66,000) bonus as a world record in a women's only race.

Money, however, is not the concern for Radcliffe. The task for her tomorrow will be to maintain her reputation as the world's finest female distance runner.

The defending champion, Margaret Okayo of Kenya, however, believes she can keep her title. "I am a fighter, as you will see on Sunday," said the woman who holds the record for the Boston and New York events. Radcliffe will also face significant opposition from Sun Yingjie, of China, and from the woman whom she outsprinted to take last year's New York title, Susan Chepkemei of Kenya.

One observer convinced that the Bedford runner will have no difficulty surpassing her debut time is the woman who has won a record four London titles, Ingrid Kristiansen.

The Norwegian chatted at length with Radcliffe on Thursday night during the 25th London marathon anniversary dinner at the Dorchester. Kristiansen, whose 1985 London victory in 2hr 21min 6sec stood as the world record for 13 years, was a sympathetic observer as Radcliffe faltered in the Olympics.

"I felt so sorry for her," she said. "I was crying with her. She didn't run like she usually does. I think she started to think negatively early in the race, like I did in the 1984 Olympics, and then she used so much energy up. She was constantly watching girls around her who would not normally be good enough to be near her.

"There is more to come from Paula, but like every good runner, she has to be careful. I think she should take a rest year before the next Games in Beijing."

Radcliffe was not the only marathon favourite to come to grief in Athens. Paul Tergat, Kenya's world record holder, also nurses painful memories after his challenge faltered following a mix-up at the drinks station. Like Radcliffe, the 35-year-old is the bookies' favourite.

But as he seeks his first London title at the fourth attempt, he will face opposition from his compatriot Evans Rutto, the defending champion, and another fellow Kenyan, Sammy Korir, who finished a second behind him when he set his world record of 2hr 4min 55sec in Berlin two years ago.

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